“Honey, listen up,” my wife exclaimed, looking up from her laptop. “My mom and dad are headed to Sante Fe in their RV and want to stop by for a couple of days.”
Earl and Marge are two of my favorite people, so I took it as good news, but a furrow in Jenny’s brow told me there was a snag. “Oh, shoot,” she groused, still reading her mom’s email, “They’re coming when Nick and Sarah will be at camp.”
Our kids are always the center of attention when grandma and grandpa come to see us, but having them out of town presented us with a unique opportunity. The solution was a no brainer. We would rendezvous at Table Rock Lake, less than an hour’s drive from our home. Our family heads to Table Rock Lake whenever there’s a free weekend, and Jenny and I were excited to share one of our favorite places.
“The sun was warm as Jen and Marge took turns jumping in and floating in the blue water.”
We were waiting when Earl and Marge rolled into the Port of Kimberling Campground, parking their sizable RV in the shady pull-through space we’d reserved for them near the lakeshore.
“Nice view,” Earl said as we connected their rig to the site’s hook-ups. “But where are you two going to stay?”
“Right next door,” I said, pointing to a nearby cabin. “We’ve got a full kitchen, plenty of food, and a grill on the deck, so we’re all set.” My wife and mother-in-law were already talking about going for a swim, and when I suggested a boat ride, our visit was happily underway.
After renting a boat and life jackets from neighboring Port of Kimberling Marina, I took the helm and headed for open water. The sun was warm as Jen and Marge took turns jumping in and floating in the blue water. Earl was content just taking in the sights, relaxing in the comfy boat seat with feet propped on our cooler. After a couple of hours on the water, our appetites sent us back to shore.
Jenny and I wanted to treat Earl and Marge to lunch to kick off our time together, so we headed to one of our favorite family hangouts, Lakeside Resort Restaurant. After our meal of good ol' American classics (burgers, sandwiches, and ice cream to top it all off), Marge mentioned the road signs they’d seen advertising Talking Rocks Cavern.
“I’m a connoisseur of cave tours,” she said. “And that curious name makes me want to check it out. Interested?”
We arrived at Talking Rocks Cavern just in time to join the next tour group, and it was refreshing to descend into the cave’s cool depths. Artfully placed lighting enhanced the glistening formations while our guide regaled us with stories about the cave’s long history. According to legend, one of its original explorers noted how the cave’s geologic treasures told a story, which led to it being named Talking Rocks.
Emerging from our 50-minute tour, Marge declared the cave to be one of the most beautiful she’d ever seen and bought a stack of post cards in the gift shop to send to friends, and Nick and Sarah away at camp. It had been a long day, and that night, we all slept with our windows open, lulled by the gentle sound of lapping waves.
“The tour wound its way through the canyon floor, passing pools, waterfalls, towering rock faces and even the Arkansas border!”
The next morning, Earl and Marge were looking forward to stretching their legs. “Have to get my exercise in,” she said. “So what’ll it be?”
Jen and I had the answer: Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, a 10,000-acre sanctuary we’d explored twice before with our kids. Dedicated to preserving and protecting native plant and wildlife habitat, Dogwood Canyon’s pristine landscape includes a visitor’s center, outdoor café, a nature and conservation center, fly-fishing, and walking trails.
It was a heavenly morning, the forests alive with birds and open lush meadows. Jen and Marge walked briskly on ahead, Jen catching her mom up on the kids’ after-school activities, while Earl and I meandered along behind, hatching our plans for the afternoon.
After an hour or so, we made our way to the start of the open-air tram tour, which we hopped on to get a deeper look into Dogwood Canyon’s beautiful expanses, as well as get a closer look at some of it’s residents (bison, elk, deer and Texas longhorns, to name a few). The tour wound its way through the canyon floor, passing pools, waterfalls, towering rock faces and even the Arkansas border!
Post-tour, it was time for Earl and I to hatch the plan we’d come up with on our walk. “How about the LedgeStone Grille at LedgeStone Country Club for lunch?” I suggested.
Over grilled sandwiches and healthy salads, we made our pitch.
“Ladies,” he said. “We have a proposal. Why don’t the two of you go shopping for a few hours while we stay here and play a little golf?” Jen and Marge were on their way as soon as Earl and I could get our clubs out of the trunk.
The “little golf” Earl referenced actually deserved a better introduction. LedgeStone’s 18-hole championship course is nestled in the Ozark Mountains and designed to be challenging. The layout easily got the better of us, but panoramic views at every turn, creative water features, and other elements made it a memorable outing despite our mediocre scores.
When Jen and Marge returned to pick us up, we heard all about their bargain finds at AJ’s Wood Door Flea Market, and Jen was particularly proud of the vintage cast iron frying pan she snagged. They also stopped into the Table Rock Art Guild Gallery, where Marge was delighted to find an oil portrait of John Wayne. She whispered to me later about her find and that it would be a future gift for Earl, a longtime fan of the Duke.
Later that evening, we sat together on the cabin deck in the fiery glow of a spectacular sunset. Just as the sun’s orange orb was disappearing from view, we saw a houseboat on the water, getting in position for a perfect sunset view.
We paused in our conversation to hear the sounds of laughter and happy voices coming across the water.
“Maybe we could stay on one of those next time,” I remarked, remembering that I saw an advertisement for a rental company called Five-Star Houseboat Vacations when Jen and I were deciding where to stay for this trip.
Marge and Earl looked at each other, grins stretching across their faces. “Staying on a houseboat would be nice. Eh, Marge?” Earl said.
“I agree. I like this place,” Marge said, looking out across the lake. “I think Nick and Sarah will, too.”